Saturday, January 5, 2019

Where's the Compassion?

As I post this first blog article of the new year, the U.S. government remains partially shut down. The issue at stake, as you know, is the funding for the wall the President insists is necessary for U.S. security.
The President’s Position
On Dec. 27, DJT tweeted that “we desperately need Border Security and a Wall on the Southern Border. Need to stop Drugs, Human Trafficking, Gang Members & Criminals from coming into our Country.”
There are at least two major problems with that tweet, which embodies the position DJT has expressed in various ways and in various places.
On the one hand, he has implied—or said fairly directly—that opposition to his plans to build a wall is, as a fact checker wrote (here), “tantamount to not wanting any border security at all.” That is patently not the case.
The main problem is the flimsy factual support for the claim that a wall would significantly reduce the problems the President enumerated. There is, certainly, a need to stop the problems Trump listed in his 12/27 tweet, but he has given no evidence that a wall would decisively decrease the number of unsavory immigrants entering the U.S.  
The Democrats’ Position
In 1914, the inimitable American poet Robert Frost wrote “Mending Wall,” a poem that begins, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” That widely analyzed poem is about two neighbors, one a progressive who questions the need for a wall and the other a traditionalist who repeats the words, “Good fences make good neighbors.”
The current political wrangling in Washington is about far more, and something far more complex, than a rock wall between two neighbors in rural New England. Yet, it is quite clear that the Democratic leaders of the Senate and the House do not love the President’s insistence on building a wall.
Sen. Schumer and Rep. Pelosi do not, of course, want criminal elements to come into the U.S. freely, in spite of what DJT has said. They are clear, however, in their opinion that border security would be best achieved by measures other than a multi-billion-dollar wall.
Which Position is More Compassionate?
In addition to, and directly related to, the issue of “the wall,” is the whole complex matter of responding to the desperate people, including many parents with young children, from Central American countries seeking asylum in the U.S. 
One of 2018’s unforgettable images: Maria Meza and her twin daughters sprint from tear gas lobbed
at the border wall between the U.S and Mexico in Tijuana, Nov. 25, 2018. Reuters/Kim Kyung Hoon
A major purpose of DJT’s proposed wall is to keep many of those distressed people out of the U.S.
Perhaps I missed it, but I haven’t seen anything in the news media about the President or his Republican supporters making any statements indicating any concern for such desperate people.
Where’s the compassion that would seem normal for people of goodwill?
What distresses me more than the apparent lack of compassion by political leaders is the support they are receiving by mostly conservative Christians.
Almost daily I see Facebook friends, including some of my cousins, who strongly support the President and his plans for a wall on the southern border.
Especially to them I post this question again: Where’s the compassion?
I encourage such Christians to read (here) “What child is this? A Christmas reflection” by Marv Knox, a venerable Baptist journalist. Knox writes graphically about his visit last month with “survivors of the infamous Central American caravan.”
In July of last year, Julie Pennington-Russell, pastor of the First Baptist Church in D.C., wrote a blog article titled “Welcoming the Stranger.” She quotes the Pew Research Center’s report indicating that the demographic least supportive of welcoming refugees is white evangelical Christians.
Sad! (as you know who has often said).
Where’s the compassion?


  1. Soon after posting this article, I saw this editorial in the Washington Post: "Immigrants aren’t terrorists, no matter what the administration says."

    The first paragraph begins, "A REPORT last year by the Justice and Homeland Security departments used cooked, bent and inaccurate data to link immigration to terrorism, thereby advancing the Trump administration’s nativist agenda. In so doing, it enshrined bigotry and impugned the departments’ credibility while shedding no light on the real threat posed by terrorism."

  2. Thanks, Leroy. Frankly, it's difficult not to fall into despair due to the galactic enormity of the lying of the current administration. Still, to take your blog seriously, that compassion should be folded into American public policy, implies two things: 1.that public policy itself can be free from political decision-making; 2.that Americans can really tolerate the notion of "suffering with" our less advantaged global neighbors (evangelicals as a body politic have abandoned this notion, obviously, and possibly much of the remainder of western Christianity). The former implication alone is never a topic of general Christian instruction or discussion,in my experience. How much less the latter?

    1. Thanks, Milton, for your early response to the new blog article and for raising good questions, as always.

      I think you are right in implying that public policy is regularly entwined with political decision-making and that, at least overtly, compassion cannot be a part of the political decision-making process. So while there has been no mention of compassion on the Republican side, neither have the Democrat leaders, as far as I know, talked about compassion either. But it seems to me that the position taken by the latter gives evidence or more compassion that anything seen on the other side, especially by DJT.

      But it also seems quite clear to me that for those who claim to be followers of Jesus, compassionate views and actions must be evident for there to be any integrity in the claim to be a Jesus-follower. There are Christians actively working, compassionately, with the desperate refugee seekers on the southern border: Catholics, Baptists, Mennonites, and those in other Christian traditions. But, sadly, these may be the exception rather than the position of the majority of even the non-Evangelical side of American Christianity.

  3. The first comment received this morning was from local Thinking Friend Sue Wright. Hear what she has to say:

    "A working compassion begins with empathy, and sadly, Trump has yet to show the slightest sign of empathy whatever the severity of our nation’s variety of crises. He feels 'with' no one. Doesn’t even know by nature or learning how to feel 'for' or 'about' people and their situations.

    "Even worse, this lack means he is not providing our country an example of compassion for us to follow. As citizens, we will soon be out of practice no matter our church affiliations, etc. We’re in a dire moment, constantly separating ourselves by causes and class; happy to stay in our homes where we don’t have to confront the needs of others because they don’t abut ours. We crave isolation from all that makes us uncomfortable. Fear rules. Let’s hope our new Congress stimulates the best of our emotions--including empathy."

    1. Thanks, Sue, for your comments. Yes, empathy and compassion are closely related concepts/emotions, and I join you in the hope that our new Congress will be able to inject both into the workings of the U.S. government.

  4. Then a few minutes ago I received these comments from Thinking Friend Eric Dollard in Chicago:

    "Thanks, Leroy, for pointing out a key question rarely asked in the border wall debate. Mr. Trump's claim that criminals are flooding into the US is not supported by any hard evidence. The immigrants from Central America are desperate--and for good reason. The violence and gang activity in Honduras and El Salvador are out of control. People are fleeing for their lives; we have a moral obligation to welcome them.

    "Nor have I been able to find any studies of whether or not the border wall envisioned by Mr. Trump would be cost-effective. Mr. Trump has offered no credible evidence to support his claims, so at this point his border wall proposal is no more than red meat for his supporters.

    "I suppose that in the end, the border wall will be approved in return for restoring and protecting the DACA program. Perhaps the Democrats should also demand that, in return for the wall, Mr Trump must release his tax returns."

  5. I agree with the comments above. I have also seen opinions in the paper that immigrants cost money because they take jobs and depress wages. I am sure the writers feel better about themselves since they are not falsely calling all the immigrants criminals. However, they are showing the same bias against immigrants that has existed during the entire USA history. It is not surprising some still believe it is a valid argument while conveniently ignoring the real causes pushing people to our border. And that is one reason why I am against a wall, because it only addresses a symptom and not the cause.

    Another reason is I think the wall is a waste of money, which was touched on above. There is discussion that the partial shutdown has or will cost more than the request for the wall, which suggests Democrats should give in, but get concessions such as for DACA. My argument against that is the US has a policy against negotiating with terrorists trying to extort money since complying only encourages a recurrence. I think that same policy should apply to anyone that wants their name on a wall, whether literally or figuratively.

    1. Thanks for posting thought-provoking comments, Dennis; it was good to hear from you again.

      I was impressed with your linking the Democrats making concessions to DJT as being much the same as negotiating with a terrorist. Unfortunately, that seems to be a rather apt linkage.

  6. Here are comments from Thinking Friend Glenn Hinson in Kentucky:

    "You have raised the right question, Leroy. It’s mind boggling to think that Christians would not put compassion above and as the measuring rod for this whole issue. Have these white evangelicals abandoned the Christian faith?"

    1. Thanks for your comments, Dr. Hinson. Actually, I am at this point planning to write about the question you raise as part of my Jan. 15 blog article.

  7. Local Thinking Friend Robert Southard has given me permission to post his email comments here:

    "I have compassion for the immigrants but I am having trouble finding compassion for those who have no compassion. Questions come to mind about the need for civil disobedience in order to get right to prevail. I find myself reacting negatively to people who want civility at a time like this. In my gut I’m not sure this is a time for civility. Nonviolence yes. But not tolerance and courtesy and ignoring/putting up with what’s happening. This may be because I seem to be running short on options. I’d love to hear your wisdom."

  8. Bob, I think I understand and largely identify with your frustration. Still, I don't want to give up on civility, which I understand as respecting other people and refraining from saying unkind and especially untrue things about them.

    But I also think it is possible to be civil and to be adamantly opposed to ideas/actions we think are wrong and injurious to the public good and to be vocal in speaking out in words and actions against those ideas and actions.

    Even in the case of DJT, I think we who oppose his ideas/actions, as I do with most of what he says and does, can oppose those ideas/actions without calling him names and making fun of him as a person. That is the reason I have misgivings about many if not most political cartoons: they usually seem to attack persons more than those persons' ideas and actions.

    To practice civility does not require "tolerance and courtesy and ignoring/putting up with what's happening." OK, it may require a high degree of courtesy toward the people with whom we disagree, but it certainly does not require tolerance of untruthful, misleading, and/or harmful statements nor passively putting up with the bad things that are happening because of the bad actions being done.

    And, yes, I think there are times when civil disobedience is called for--and if DJT declares a national emergency in his speech tonight in order to build a wall on the southern border unilaterally, in the days ahead widespread acts of civil disobedience may well be a proper response.